Is your dog a Weekend Warrior?
Many of you may say ‘what on earth is a weekend warrior’! A weekend warrior is a dog that gets little or no exercise during the week due to their owners busy schedule, but at weekends the owner engages in really strenuous physical exercise with the dog. We would all love to take our dogs out daily, however, we are not all that lucky!
Although the dog may seem to love all this extra exercise and not seem any the ‘worse for wear’ as the saying goes, damage can occur, resulting in sore and achy joints (just like us humans if we over exercise) and serious injury is more likely to occur.
We don’t always have the time to take our dogs for daily walks, so how do we overcome this and still ensure that our dogs will not incur damage during the vigorous exercise at the weekends?
Note - If you are engaging in vigorous exercise, do ensure that that the dog does not eat for at least 30 minutes before, or after exercise – the ideal period being 1 to 2 hours. This is to avoid GDV, which is the twisting of the gut and can occur if food is eaten either before, or too soon after vigorous exercise. Bear this in mind if you are going to start getting your dog fitter either before work or when you come home.
Check with your vet.
Your vet will know your dog’s age, its general health, any pre-existing conditions, its breed and the likelihood of any genetic conditions occurring. The vet will be able to give you a good idea as to how much exercises is safe, the amount of time you should exercise, and which type of exercise would be the best option, and importantly, what to avoid. The vet will also probably check the health of your dog’s paws and nails, to ensure that damage does not occur in this area. Ask your vet about preventing GDV, as mentioned above, and they will give you guidelines.
Substrate and safety hints
If you are giving vigorous exercise at weekends, pay attention to the substrate being used, and try for grass and sand which will be a lot less harsh on your dog’s body.
Time of day – avoid the hot midday sun and do check the temperature of the ground, as you wear shoes, but your dog does not!
Just as we humans warm up before we exercise to get the circulation moving, increase our heart rates, loosen up joints and increase blood flow, giving your dog a good warm up before exercise becomes vigorous, can go a long way to preventing injury – you, as the owner are also warming up for the joint exercise. Consider a walk that gets gradually faster and even start jogging, before you start.
Have regular breaks in between, where you can both have a drink and a bit of a rest during the exercise period.
Remember to check for ticks and fleas before you go back home, or make sure you have a tickless device. The devices emit a series of ultrasonic pulses that are imperceptible to humans, pets or wildlife but interfere with the ability of ticks and fleas to orient themselves. Environmentally friendly, contains no chemicals or fragrances, making it perfectly safe to use for everyone.
The difference a 10 - 15 minute slow, scenting walk can make when it comes to both mental and physical stimulation and prevention of frustration, boredom, and related behaviour concerns associated with same, is enormous.
A short walk daily will help a weekend warrior to an extent, but more preparation for the vigorous weekend activities is needed and at least 2 x 20 - 30 minute sessions of exercise during the week – if you are going to go running with your dog, remember that both of you need to warm up before getting started. Until your dog is fit, do bring in some rest periods during the activity you decide upon.
If you are going to be doing extra walks, don’t just walk in a straight line, quickly change direction on a regular basis so that your dog has to follow you, and walk over various substrates. You can even have your dog pop over items such as low fences around a park, fallen trees, jump up onto a park bench, while out for a walk. This helps with both fitness and the dog’s balance.
Some ideas to consider in addition to extra walks
Swimming – It is an excellent work out for a dog and an added bonus is that you can sit in a chair and watch or toss a ball for the dog to swim after. Dogs do not seem to mind cold water in the way we do, and make sure you teach your dog to get in, and out of the pool safely, in the event the dog has access to it when you are not home.
It is estimated that 5 to 10 minutes of a dog swimming continuously, is the equivalent of a good 30 to 40 min run for your dog – just remember to build up gradually.
Swimming is great for the heart and lungs, low impact, and gives the dogs body a full workout as they are using nearly all their muscles, especially those of the front legs, which can take a lot of strain with vigorous weekend session.
Swimming should also be built up gradually, so do check with your vet as to what times you should be looking at.
- Games of fetching items – some great fetch games in the garden, gradually building up to make the dog go faster and try to build up the time as well. Good fun for the whole family is to have the dog run from person to person and request a ‘sit’. Give praise and a treat when the dog complies. Dogs love this game, and not only does it build fitness, but it also helps with having a great recall to boot!
- Flirt Poles – The Flirt Pole below provides endless entertainment for a dog and is really tiring and brilliant for high energy dogs and one we always suggest. It can also be combined with obedience in that the dog has to either Down or Sit and Wait. When the dog is allowed to catch the 'prey' a Leave can be brought in. This really stimulates the prey drive in a dog and is a wonderful method of play, plus helps to build fitness and even a short session will make a difference in fitness and will tire a dog. On You Tube you can also find videos showing how to make a Flirt Pole or you can purchase one.
- Home Agility– If your dog loves jumping over things, then consider a home agility kit, or make one yourself. We prefer one of the Outward Hound Home Agility Kits, as it’s so easy to put up and it packs away in minutes, a real bonus, especially when you have a busy work schedule. Apart from both of you having good fun, agility helps to build lean muscle and very importantly to strengthen joints. It also improves coordination and provides both mental and physical stimulation, and even a short practice session will result in a tired dog.
Treadmills – Many of us have seen on some TV programs on dogs, that trainers recommend using a treadmill to tire out the dog. Unless you have a treadmill that is specifically designed to be used for dogs, using your own treadmill is not the best idea. The treadmills made for dogs have a different suspension mechanism which is designed specifically for dogs. It seems that the main reason not to use it is that the length of the tread area is not long enough for most dogs, which can lead to a shortening of their gate, plus it is a hard substrate, which may not suit all dogs.
Additionally, you should never just tie your dog onto the treadmill and allow it to walk, if you do decide on this option, the dog should slowly be desensitized to using it in a positive manner and gradually build up the time period and distance. Having side guards so that the dog cannot jump off and injure itself, is also a good idea.
- Stretching and Balance Exercises – Stretching exercises are great for keeping a dog nice and limber, as well as good for both warming up and cooling down. The American Kennel Club has a good selection you can try.
by Scotty Valadao - Canine Behaviourist - Founder www.friendsofthedog.co.za